Is CAR-T Obsolete Before it Gets Started?
CAR-T therapy is potentially a big breakthrough in treating cancer. It is also a potential economic windfall for the companies developing CAR-T therapies.
But what if CAR-T therapy is obsolete before it even gets started?
How CAR-T Works
CAR-T therapy extracts your own T-Cells. Then edits them in the lab to recognize a protein expressed only on your cancer cells. Then your edited T-Cells are reintroduced back into your body. The edited T-Cells spur your own immune system to eradicate your cancerous cells.
Right now CAR-T therapy is being used on blood based cancers, Leukemia and Lymphoma. This is a large market by itself but the big opportunity is getting CAR-T therapies to work on solid tumors.
The leaders in CAR-T therapy are Gilead, Novartis, and Juno Therapeutics. Gilead already has an approved product on the market with Yescarta.
CAR-T still has some drawbacks. It’s expensive with potentially serious side effects. CAR-T therapy still needs more research and testing to iron out all its issues.
But what if scientists already found a way to fight cancer without the need to extract and edit your T-cells?
The new method works to reactivate the cancer-specific T cells by injecting microgram amounts of two agents directly into the tumor site. (A microgram is one-millionth of a gram).
The first, a short stretch of DNA called a CpG oligonucleotide, works with other nearby immune cells to amplify the expression of an activating receptor called OX40 on the surface of the T cells. The second, an antibody that binds to OX40, activates the T cells to lead the charge against the cancer cells.
Because the two agents are injected directly into the tumor, only T cells that have infiltrated it are activated. In effect, these T cells are “prescreened” by the body to recognize only cancer-specific proteins.
Some of these tumor-specific, activated T cells then leave the original tumor to find and destroy other identical tumors throughout the body.
87 of the 90 mice with transplanted Lymphoma were cured. The 3 that had cancer return were treated a second time and cured.
The researchers had similar success with mice that had colon, breast, and melanoma tumors.
Mice genetically engineered to spontaneously develop breast cancers in all 10 of their mammary pads also responded to the treatment. Treating the first tumor that arose often prevented the occurrence of future tumors and significantly increased the animals’ life span.
The Stanford researchers are recruiting 15 people with low grade lymphoma to test the treatment on people.
If CAR-T therapy is made obsolete before it even gains traction it would be a large loss to Novartis, Juno, and especially Gilead. Gilead purchased Kite and its Car-T platform as a major pillar for its future growth.
Treating cancer is a Gordian Knot. There are so many biochemical pathways involved that combinations of treatments are necessary. It is possible this new treatment won’t replace the need for CAR-T therapy. But what if it reduces the need for Car-T? It would still be a large loss for the three companies. This research is something to watch.